Edited and Translated by Ammiel Alcalay, Jacqueline Cornetta, Alison Macomber, and Alexander Soria
The following is excerpted from Querido Pablito / Julissimo Querido: Selected Correspondence, 1950–1971, a selection of letters exchanged between Paul Blackburn and Julio Cortázar, recently published by Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative. Blackburn and Cortázar’s letters move fluidly between English and Spanish, and the editors indicate that movement between languages with square brackets stating the language being used; in addition, they left some original Spanish and French in the texts to give a flavor of the original mix. (Read an interview with the editors of Querido Pablito / Julissimo Querido.)
[From Julio Cortázar to Paul Blackburn]
París, 27 de marzo de 1960
Querido cronopio Paul:
[Spanish] By now you are probably thinking that I drowned in the [English] deep blue sea, [Spanish] or that I neglect my friends. Neither one nor the other. In Buenos Aires there was a strike at the port and we left three months behind schedule. We’ve only been in Paris a little while (and so happy to be here, after three wretched and boring months in Argentina, which has gone to shit). But none of this matters. What is important is that on arrival we found EL PAQUETE, first, and then EL OTRO PAQUETE. Now, let’s discuss the PAQUETE and then we’ll occupy ourselves with EL OTRO PAQUETE. Well, the PAQUETE with the tubes of STRIPES, now that’s a gift! [English] The double-barreled toothpaste! [Spanish] We immediately opened the window and started cleaning our teeth and singing, but luckily the famas didn’t gather in the streets. I’ve never seen something more surrealist than this toothpaste with its white heart and little red streaks. If your gums bleed you don’t notice. STRIPES takes all your cares away, STRIPES is the ONLY TOOTHPASTE FOR CRONOPIOS. If you look at the clipping I’m sending you, you’ll see that I’m right: in the Toothpaste Derby of England, STRIPES didn’t even come in seventh: ahead went Mr. Pepsodent, Colgate, etc., which are the toothpastes of famas. If STRIPES had won the derby I would have suffered immensely, because then it would have meant it’s not a paste for cronopios.
And now EL OTRO PAQUETE, the talking tape, the gift of gifts. Seriously, Paul, you can’t imagine with what emotion and happiness I listened to your recordings. I don’t have a tape recorder and had to go to a store where they sell them. They stuck me in a corner and left me alone with your voice and the noises of New York. It was an extraordinary sensation. At first I couldn’t hear well, because you were speaking to me from so far away and there were other sounds in the background. Then, you started to read the Cronopios, and it was as perfect as a miracle. Me, crammed into a store on Champ de Mars, and you speaking near a window where you can hear the sounds of New York . . . I think the age of magic has just begun now, not in the time of Hermes Trismegisto. Everything is magic, it’s incredible that that roll of brown tape holds two hours of your voice, of your breath, and suddenly a speaker shouting, “New and used cars, at Leonardo Rodríguez’s!” and Miles Davis, and you again, you with your poetry. Because I want to speak about your poems more than anything else, first I’ll tell you that your reading of the Cronopios helped me feel how good the translation is, making them just as alive in English as in Spanish. Now I need to get a tape recorder at home to get together with my friends that know English and make them listen to you for an entire night. They’ll go mad.
But your poems are what’s important. Look, Paul, I read English perfectly, but for lack of practice I don’t always fully comprehend it when I hear it spoken and more so if it is poetry (it’s clear that some of yours are very difficult, very compact, tremendously condensed). Therefore, my impression is not yet complete, because I’ll need to listen many more times, rewind, play them again, soak myself in each verse as if I were walking slowly under a New York style drizzle, subtle and complicated. What I do know, the only thing I know is that a great deal of those poems didn’t solely enter through my ears, they’ve been a complete invasion, your presence extraordinarily felt, the presence of the poet who transmits his message, who reads something that is a piece of his body and his soul, a great poet, in the midst of his city, surrounded by an immense world, terrible and beautiful, and who makes sure a far off friend receives the summary of his whole life. MEDITATION ON THE BMT, for example, made such a strong impression on me that I had to turn off the apparatus, smoke a cigarette, and then listen to it again, to try to consider it objectively, to take it in through some other way. It seems (along with the following one, THE FRANKLIN AVENUE LINE) like one of the most beautiful, perhaps because I understood it—I think—very well, very clearly, with all its tremendous beauty and strength. I could name all the poems that I like, but that wouldn’t be right, because the ones I liked less are probably simply the ones I understood less, and that I would have to listen to multiple times [. . .] But I’ll say it again, Paul, when I get a tape recorder and am able to listen to them five or six times each, I know I’ll also be able to understand and sense the others much better. If by some chance you have written copies of those poems (and of others, of course) are you going to send them to me? I promise you from right now that the day that I have a tape recorder, I will send you a tape with my poems, which I think you’ll like, though they are completely different from what you know of me (that doesn’t matter, right?) [. . .]
Your gift of those poems has been the best thing waiting for me in Paris. It truly is remarkable to listen to the poet, speaking his own verses. You know I have a lot of vinyls of poetry here, Dylan Thomas reading “And death shall have no dominion” and other things, old Eliot . . . In Vienna I heard Joyce reading a fragment of Finnegans Wake, it was supernatural. Can you imagine that Rimbaud could have recited “Bateau Ivre.” Mais il auraut fini par un MERDE! Qui aurait crevé le phonographe . . .
Well, now on to professional news. But before that: Cronopio Paul Blackburn, [English] private first-class, [Spanish] your [English] COLLECTING THE MAIL [Spanish] is quite good. Only a cronopio can write about cronopios like that, and speak about one of them saying [English] “the dismayed cronopio,” [Spanish] it’s perfect. I see my green and wet bugs have become acclimated to New York, and are happily strolling about and going into the bars of Christopher Street. Now it seems they will soon acclimate to Buenos Aires—and on to the professional news, [English] now I am speaking to my, ejem!, Literary AAAAAGENT. Salam, Sahib. Allah ibn Allah. Ciao! [. . .]
[. . .] Well, Paul, thanks again for the STRIPES, thanks for everything. You’re so good and so macanudo and your voice is very much the voice of a true friend (and those sparrows that sang in your window, and the sound of the rain), which makes it hard for me to end this letter. I could keep on writing nonsense all night. But I have to carry on with a novel which I think will turn out good . . . one day.
Aurora sends her love, and me, a hug, Julio
[From Paul Blackburn to Julio Cortázar]
April 2, 1963
[English] Voici enfin, 1/2 the advance from Pantheon for RAYUELA with my nick taken out. I hope these bank checks are simple for you to negotiate. Do you have a numbered account in Switzerland where I can send them direct? Money complications always intrigue me: in a funny long thin magazine I am having Sara send you, there is a happening made by Paik and Trowbridge. One performer sends a bankers check for 10 DM to the other performer. Receiver returns the money in the same manner, but changes the currency from marks to dollars. The first performer sends back the remainder of the money to the second performer, but changes the currency from $ to NFs. This continues, the currency being changed into as many different currencies as possible, until all the money is consumed by the banks. Receipts of banking transactions and fees should be saved and exposed at an appropriate time . . .
Also here is a cronopio cartoon from the NYorker, on the other side of one page is a poem by Galway Kinnell which is not at all bad.
I am taking a bit of vacation, now job is over and an overdue article into The Nation, and there’s a job interview Monday afternoon, so have rented a car to give Louis Zukofsky’s son, Paul, some time at the wheel. He passed his AAA test, but somehow flunked the city test. I doubt if it is much more a matter of lessons. Just time at the wheel. We are driving way out onto Long Island where there are numerous empty roads, and beaches to walk around on, even tho it be still winter. I am taking along the mss. of LOS PREMIOS and the book, and will get some of that editing done, right? Right.
What is black and soft and has three or four legs? The Blackburn pussycats. Trigger, our little fallout job is sitting in my lap. Nena, the old slut has just had two big new kittens, one plain and one with stripes. Ho, the news. They just arrested Lennie Bruce in a café last night for giving ‘an indecent performance.’ Now both cats are in my lap. I better quit. Will send a proper letter later—love to you both—
Ammiel Alcalay is a poet, translator, critic, and scholar, whose recent books include a little history and the second edition of from the warring factions. Initiator and general editor of Lost & Found, he teaches in various fields at Queens College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He is the recipient of a 2017 Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award for his work on Lost & Found.
Jacqueline Cornetta is a translator, writer, and musician, whose current projects include a translated collection of short fiction by Mexican women and a book of poetry. She is pursuing an MFA in Literary Translation and Creative Writing at Queens College.
Alison Macomber is a student of the MFA Creative Writing and Literary Translation Program at Queens College, with a concentration on translation and poetry. She has published translations in Cuban Newrrative: e-Merging Literature from Generation Zero for Sampsonia Way Magazine of City of Asylum/Pittsburgh and is now translating The Abduction of Luis Guzmán by Pablo Remón.
A graduate of Queens College, Alexander Soria is a student in the MALS Program at the Graduate Center, CUNY. He is a photographer, poet, and translator from and into several languages.
All Paul Blackburn materials copyright © by Joan Blackburn. All Julio Cortázar materials copyright © by Estate of Julio Cortázar. Excerpt by agreement with Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative.